Women as Domestic Appliances and Internalized #Misogyny
by Rita Banerji
When I bring up the issue of internalized misogyny in Indian women, I’m not necessarily talking about the mothers-in-law who abuse and kill their daughters-in-law for dowry. What I’m talking about is how women view themselves. It is the subtle misogyny, a form self-loathing, which often passes over women, even urban, educated, working women, without their even noticing it.
Take for instance a conversation I was having with my mother one time about one of her male relatives. She told me, with this look of complete disgust, “He’s like a woman.” She was referring to how he never takes a stand on nor assumes responsibility for any family project, and lets her do it all. Does she really think that that is what characterizes a woman: weakness, laziness, and incompetence? I’m a woman, she’s a woman – so does that mean she sees us both that way too? I said, “Mom, as a woman I don’t know how you feel about that statement, but as a woman, I for one, find it very offensive! There are words, adjectives, that you can use to describe him. Why do you use the word ‘woman’ to sum up everything that’s negative about him?” Conversely, if a woman does things right or takes charge, I’ve heard women say, “She can handle things like a man!” as if, women by nature are incompetent!
Here’s another example: an opinion column in my newspaper this morning. This is one of the largest circulating newspapers in the country, and this piece is meant to be the funny column – a little bit of humor to lighten life for the reader amidst all the other ‘dark’ news items I suppose. What struck me about the article, besides the dismal male chauvinism, is that it’s written by a woman! She is writing about the break-down of her old washing machine and she speaks of it like it is female, and uses every conceivable sexist, stereotypical analogy to do so! Below is a sampling of that:
…Should I have paid attention when she had complained mildly a few days back?… As I covered her up one last time, I remembered the first time I had come across her at a shop. Before that I had only seen her on TV and been bowled over by her charms. In person she was as impressive as on the TV…She was ahead of her times and to come up to her expectations…She appeared friendly enough but these initial demands made me somewhat jittery.. I know despite all her qualities she wasn’t perfect, but then, who is? How could one then grudge that she couldn’t remove lint from hubby’s dark trousers or apply Robin Blue on his white shirts? She did leave things in a tangle at times…I have a shiny new washing machine now but I guess it’ll take me a little time to change my loyalties.
I wonder does this woman see herself as a domestic appliance? Does she see all women as domestic appliances? Like objects that are evaluated, purchased, owned and used by households, who “despite all their qualities are not perfect” and will ultimately have to be trashed?
I have often argued against the prefixing of the word ‘domestic’ to violence, for the battery that women are subjected to by intimates within their home environment. Violence is violence. It is a violation of a person’s human rights regardless of where it happens and who it’s inflicted by. The phrase domestic violence puts women into the ‘domestic’ bin, along with all other domestic appliances: the washing machine, the cooking range, and the oven. It is society, government and law saying: What a man does with his household appliances, including the woman, is his business. He owns. He uses. He breaks. He trashes. It’s all a domestic matter! There is a big problem if women are nodding to that and saying — Yes!
ABOUT THE WRITER
Rita Banerji is an author and gender activist, and the founder of The 50 Million Missing Campaign to end India’s female genocide. Her book ‘Sex and Power: Defining History Shaping Societies,‘ is a historical and social look at how the relationship between gender and power in India has led to the ongoing female gendercide. Her website is www.ritabanerji.com She blogs at Revolutions in my Space and tweets at @Rita_Banerji
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHERS
The photos in this post are by member photographers of The 50 Million Missing Campaign. There are 2400 photographers from around the world who support The 50 Million Missing Campaign’s photo pool on flickr. To see more of the works by each of the photographers here click on the photos and connect to their individual sites.